How can we get the merit balance right?

The following is based on extracts from 'Merit and its merits: Are we confusing the baby with the bathwater?' Australian Journal of Public Administration, Vol 70, Issue 3, pages 318-326:

It is important to recognise that merit selection should not be at the cost, by default, of condoning poor decision-making. The APS must work towards simplifying the structure or process of merit while striving towards the ideal of 'absolute' merit.

The problem facing the APS and for that matter, other state and international public services, is finding an acceptable compromise between the two extremes of absolute merit and pragmatic merit—or in other words—a balance between principle and pressures to cut corners to be more responsive. This balance changes over time and reflects prevailing societal views on the value of public service and the role it plays in delivering services and employment.

Agencies need to 'invest' in recruitment, actively project manage it, clearly identify capability requirements and integrate this with workforce plans.

There are many initiatives already available to agencies, including:

  • proactively aligning with workforce plans to address skill, career and succession paths and enhance job design
  • using flexibilities within the current framework and addressing restrictive internal policies
  • training managers on modern selection practices to optimise returns on investment
  • consciously identifying what the job is and what skills and qualities are necessary before beginning recruitment
  • pre-planning logistics prior to advertising—including timelines, panel availability (planned leave, job movements, other priorities), updating delegations and booking rooms and technology
  • getting the basics right such as records management—including filing evidence (resumes, assessment centre results etc) to support decisions, and reasons for those decisions.

Having open and transparent processes when investing in our people is good decision-making.